2013 College Football Preview: BTN Tackles First, Second Screens

It was only six years ago that the Big Ten Network (BTN) made its emphatic debut with a stunning live broadcast of an unexpectedly historic upset when Appalachian State, an FBS school, beat Michigan at the Big House. It seems forever ago given just how much BTN has grown since then.

btnThe 2013 season gets under way tonight with a pair of games at 7 p.m. ET: UNLV visits Minnesota, while Indiana hosts in-state rival Indiana State.

Preparations for the seventh season of Big Ten football began months ago in a conference room in Chicago.

Candid Cameras
A BTN football A game typically hosts a camera complement of nine or 10 cameras, including a jib. Remaining football productions are not far behind at seven to nine cameras.

According to Hulsey, BTN has kicked around the idea of deploying some specialty cameras, including the Inertia Unlimited X-Mo and the Phantom Cam frequently used by parent company Fox Sports. For now, though, the network is holding off.

“Given the increased pace of play and the amount of time between snaps, it’s a work in progress,” says Mark Hulsey, VP, production/executive producer, BTN. “We’ve also discussed how to best showcase the starting lineups, for example. We’re in a different age of college football now with the hurry-up offense, the lack of the traditional huddles, and the long times elapsed between snaps. It’s a different thing that we have to adjust to. We talk about this all the time.”

Field Pass Returns
At each game, BTN locks off one camera an hour before pregame to serve as the point-of-view for BTN’s Field Pass, a second-screen feature on BTN’s popular BTN2GO app that allows fans at home to take in all of the in-stadium festivities.

Allowing fans to watch pregame warm-ups, presentations, player entrances, and band performances, BTN Field Pass debuted a year ago to rave reviews, and Hulsey is looking forward to its return.

“The bands are such an important part of the pageantry of college football,” he points out. “We have some great traditions in the Big Ten on football Saturdays: the dotting of the I at Ohio State, the tunnel walk at Nebraska, Michigan entering the field and touching the banner. We’re going to do everything we can to showcase those traditions in our game opens. It’s going to be a big point of emphasis for us again this year.”

Hulsey says the camera used for BTN Field Pass depends on the venue but will be a roving camera — cart camera, jib, RF handheld — whenever possible.

“Our goal on these productions is to showcase all of the traditions and pageantry that surrounds Big Ten football,” he points out. “If we do that well, then we’re doing our job.”

High Volume, Top Talent
BTN will get off to a roaring start producing 28 football games in the first five weeks alone.

Mobile TV Group will again serve as BTN’s primary vendor, but Hulsey says some sub-trucks will have to be used to handle the volume. The network will also use IMS Productions out of Indianapolis on selected football games.

For a designated A game, approximately 40 staffers are on-site for set day and the game broadcast. BTN has a traveling core of crew that is involved with game productions and are supplemented with local freelance talent.

Hulsey and his team begin working on the football broadcast schedule and staffing schedules as early as May, not just to get out in front on preparations but to ensure that they can acquire the best production talent.

Says Hulsey, “There’s so many football games being televised right now that securing the best below-the-line and above-the-line crews is so valuable and so important that the quicker we get on this the better.”